Chrysler, the barely big-3 automaker that saw its annual unit sales drop by roughly two-thirds between 1999 and 2009, needed friends. Having alienated two or three generations of the driving public, the company—now owned by Fiat, the American and Canadian governments, and its employees’ pension plan—would need to find them in new networks, perhaps via a novel medium. Which is to say, Gen-Z trendsetters too plugged in to have noticed the abomination that was the Sebring.
Enter New Media Strategies.
Or as the vaguely Orwellian D.C. consultancy, founded by Republican pollster (and Fox News talking-head) Pete Snyder, tells prospective clients: *Due to the rise of Web 2.0 and social media, in the 21st century, the marketplace is now a conversation. Are you listening? Do you have a voice?" What could go wrong?
Twitter! Does a car company with an image (and quality) problem need to recover 140 characters at a time? Unclear, but NMS would not be a full-service social-media fixer if it didn’t take charge of all your corporate hashtagging and tinyURLing. On Wednesday, an NMS employee, presumably dispatched to work onsite in the Wolverine State, tweeted as @ChryslerAutos : “I find it ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to fucking drive.”
If that gnarly edginess sounds familiar, NMS was the outfit responsible for the well-received Superbowl ad featuring Eminem and the priceless new Chrysler tagline “Imported from Detroit.” You know, the one that asked:
What does this city know about luxury? Huh? What does a town that’s been to hell and back know about the finer things in life? Well, I’ll tell ya: more than most. You see, it’s the hottest fires that make the hardest steel.* Add hard work and conviction, and the knowhow that runs generations deep in every last one of us—that’s who we are. That’s our story. Now that’s probably not the one you’ve been reading in the papers. The one written by folks who’ve never even been here and don’t know what we’re capable of. Because when it comes to luxury it’s as much about where it’s from as who it’s for… This is the Motor City. And this is what we do.
[*In fact, it’s the carbon content that determines the hardness of steel.]
This was embarrassing, perhaps even more embarrassing than the Dodge Caliber or Jeep Compass. Chrysler was obviously unable to delete the message in time to dodge the retweets. Yesterday, the company announced that it—or rather, New Media Strategies—had fired the mystery road-raging employee. Overnight came word that NWS’s contract with Chrysler won’t be renewed.
“The company is committed to promoting Detroit and its hard-working people,” Chrysler flack Ed Gerston told the Detroit Free Press. “With so much goodwill built up over a very short time [by NWS’s campaign], we can’t afford to backslide now and jeopardize this process [by being seen as associated with NWS].”
It’s an injustice of old-media puritanism, sure, but don’t worry about New Media Strategies. The company blog posted a statement of regret from Snyder. The following post: What We’re Watching at #SXSWi 2011.